Building a Business: CEAS Alumna Starts Her Own Engineering Firm

By:    Brandon Pytel
Date: March 27, 2018

Julie Cromwell recently made the leap from principal at a reputable engineering firm to entrepreneur by starting her own business: Julie Cromwell & Associates, LLC.

Julie Cromwell Headshot

Cromwell's new firm offers services like structural engineering, consulting and project support.

Starting a business takes a big leap of faith. It also takes unwavering leadership, extensive knowledge of the industry and a reliable support system. Julie Cromwell (civil engineering ’01) knows all about these demands, recently starting her own business, Julie Cromwell & Associates, LLC, in Cincinnati’s O’Bryonville neighborhood.

The company is a full service structural engineering firm that focuses on building design and restoration. From concrete to steel to wood, Cromwell’s firm does it all. Her clients span from interior designers to developers, contractors to owners and engineers to architects.

“Our goal is to design safe and efficient economical structures that satisfy the needs and wants of the owner and architect,” says Cromwell. “We can achieve this goal by delivering effective services with good communication, passion and compassion.”

She sites her team focus as the key to success: “It think it’s very important to know your team, to understand what they want and then to make it happen,” Cromwell says. “The more collaboration you have as a design team, the more diverse ideas you have to solve a problem.”

Laying the Foundation

Though Cromwell’s firm offers a wide range of services, her personal passion is concrete design, established through her education in civil and structural engineering. She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS).

As an undergraduate student, Cromwell got a feel for the many different tracks within civil engineering. During her five years in the civil engineering program at UC, she took courses in geotechnical, structural and environmental engineering, while exploring their relationships with the construction and transportation industry.

“All of these fields help our community by increasing health and safety through infrastructure,” she says.

Cromwell also got her first taste of the industry as an undergraduate student, through her involvement in the UC Chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers and the CEAS cooperative education (co-op) program.

“Co-op offers the opportunity to learn what you want to do and what you don’t want to do,” says Cromwell. “The co-op program gives you the confidence you’re moving in the right direction. Through co-op, I discovered my passion for concrete buildings.”

After graduating, Cromwell enrolled in UC’s structural engineering graduate program. There she ran with her passion for concrete and built upon her relationship with professors.

“I always encourage people to come to UC because the professors are just wonderful,” says Cromwell. “They have a personal interest in you — these professors know your name and your goals, and they work with you to achieve those goals.”

In her graduate research, Cromwell, with her adviser, Bahram Shahrooz, PhD, studied the environmental effects on the durability of externally bonded fiber reinforced polymers intended for repair of concrete structures, which was new research in the field at the time.

“Dr. Shahrooz is one of my biggest mentors, and we’re still great friends today,” says Cromwell. “His love of concrete helped fuel my passion.”

Following in Her Grandfather’s Footsteps

After graduation, Cromwell went on to learn more about the industry, taking several different professional roles and eventually becoming a principal at THP Limited, Inc. At THP, Cromwell developed a large network, while gaining knowledge in various aspects of the industry.

Cincinnati Business Courier named Cromwell one of their Forty under 40 in 2017, which honors young professionals who are making a difference in their business and the Cincinnati community. This recognition gave her an additional network.

The award also proved to be a tipping point that inspired a change.

“I felt like something was missing,” says Cromwell. “I wanted more challenge and to be a voice and a mentor for those who may not think engineering is possible for them.”

The choice to leave THP was not an easy one. “THP prepared me really well,” Cromwell says. “I had great projects and great colleagues. I was an owner when I left, which made it even harder.”

All these thoughts were fueled by a family history of entrepreneurship. Cromwell’s grandfather, Woody Pack (UC College of Pharmacy ’48), has owned his own business, Pack Pharmacy, for over 68 years.

“I grew up in a family business with an atmosphere based in teamwork and collaboration,” Cromwell says. “There’s always been part of me that wanted that experience. I wanted more challenge and more ownership. I wanted to make a difference in my profession.”

Trailblazing for Women Engineers

Part of Cromwell’s drive is rooted in her passion for women in engineering. By starting her own engineering firm, Cromwell has made her company a beacon for other women engineers.

“I wanted to focus more on community outreach, and that is hard when you’re part of a bigger company,” she says. “Now I can do more of what I feel is important.”

Cromwell has always been involved with students at the college level. She has been an adjunct professor at UC and a volunteer with student groups. Now, however, Cromwell is also interested in reaching out to high school and elementary school students.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be a mentor for women engineers and to have more outreach and more of an impact on the youth,” she says. “I want to help introduce the field of engineering and encourage pursuing careers in STEM to underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and women.”

Cromwell advises women entering the engineering field, or even starting their own company, to recognize their priorities and have flexibility. She warns about a learning curve: “You’re not going to be 100 percent perfect everywhere, so don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Building for the Future

As a voice for diversity in the field, Cromwell hopes her success sets a good example for others, including her own three daughters.

“On the weekends, my husband and my three girls go to the office we’re renovating,” she says. “For them to see the office with my name on the glass is priceless.”

Cromwell looks forward to watching her business grow and supporting future clients. She hopes that her own company can be part of the larger movement of supporting diversity in engineering.

She says, “Over the next several years, I see the company growing and becoming more specialized in different areas, while celebrating diversity, embracing creativity and becoming one of Cincinnati’s premier design firms.”

Her success, she hopes, will be an inspiration for women engineers everywhere.